Friday, July 14, 2017
We welcome Professor Jamie Abrams to the Gender & Law Prof Blog for the month of July. She is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she teaches Torts, Family Law, Legislation, and Women and the Law. Her research focuses on reproductive and birthing decision-making, gendered citizenship, legal protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, and legal education pedagogy. Professor Abrams' most recent work includes Debunking the Myth of Universal Male Privilege, in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, and The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism
As law schools are implementing the new ABA Standards, these standards call for more formative assessment throughout the semester and at least six credits of experiential learning courses. When these revised standards were initially proposed and the drafters sought feedback, the proposed standards raised a flurry of critiques relating to academic freedom, resource strains, and existing competencies in implementation. After adoption, a responsive and helpful series of conferences, listserv posts, and scholarly activities emerged to address concerns and critiques.
In a recent article titled Experiential Learning in the Era of Donald Trump published in the Duquesne Law Review, however, I highlight one concern that was missing from the initial debate and discussion surrounding successful implementation of these assessment and experiential requirements. The missing component was the political peril (and opportunity) that faculty would face in implementing these requirements in the context of political divisiveness and discord. Law schools are notably implementing these pedagogical reforms in a time of great political division. From the divisive presidential election, to police-community relations, to a worldwide refugee crisis, political discourse is contentious, polarized, and fraught with both risk and opportunity. University campuses have particularly been the sites of difficult discussions about race, politics, gender, and the very role of academic communities in these conversations.
Students and faculty alike seem less capable than ever to manage these complex dynamics, yet true experiential learning and assessment requires us to move into the “eye of the storm” for courses with politically grounded content. This includes courses on gender and the law, feminist theory, reproductive rights, legislation, race and the law, sexuality and the law, and many other topics that may be taught by readers of this blog. How do we as educators simulate for students a real-world lawyering context without stepping on landmines in our reviews, reputations, and careers? The stakes are high. In this modern reality, both faculty and students alike may not be comfortable, prepared, or equipped to navigate these challenges without savvy techniques and methods. This is further complicated when layered on the reality that well-documented gender bias already sits in student and faculty evaluation systems.
This is a pedagogical conversation that gender faculty should lead and engage. In the article, I preliminarily identify three components to a modern experiential learning course addressing topics of political relevance, such as gender and the law courses: (1) student-driven content, instead of faculty-driven content; (2) consistent and holistic student engagement, instead of sporadic or sequential engagement; and (3) vertically and horizontally structured feedback. Critically though, neither the underlying article nor this blog post pretend to have the answers to these questions, but rather, they hope to spark ongoing discussion and idea-sharing. We also have an opportunity in front of us to transform our students into thoughtful problem-solvers and savvy lawyers while advancing the pedagogy of gender courses in tough political times.